Who should decide where Syrian refugees settle?
December 2, 2015
By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer
After the Paris terrorist attacks in November, a debate started in the U.S. about whether the country should admit refugees from the Syrian conflict. It is still unclear whether a terrorist in the Paris attack entered in France and other countries by hiding among the flood of refugees entering Europe, but some lawmakers have demanded that the U.S. plan for refugees stop.
Some governors have opposed the federal government’s plan to resettle refugees; a case may end up in the federal courts. Previously, the courts have sided with the federal government on issues relating to border policies and who is admitted to the U.S.
More than two dozen governors have criticized President Obama for going ahead with resettlement of Syrian refugees, arguing that potential terrorists might be among them. “American humanitarian compassion could be exploited to expose Americans to similar deadly danger,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to Obama. The governors and other politicians are concerned that the refugees are a “Trojan horse” for terrorists and could expose Americans to the threat of terror.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has refused to let Syrian refugees enter his state, defying a federal order. Pence was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says that he does not have the authority to refuse refugees. The suit says that the state received $900,000 in federal funds for resettlement, but that the governor is refusing to use the money for refugees, which the ACLU says is illegal.
The governor’s office argues that his actions are well within the authority of the state’s executive and that he is doing his duty to keep Indianans safe. A Pence spokesman said in a statement: “Governor Pence took decisive action a week ago to put the safety and security of the people of Indiana first by suspending the state’s participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees. The governor is confident he has the authority to suspend the state’s participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana and will not reverse course until the Administration and Congress take action to pause this program and implement measures necessary to address security gaps acknowledged by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.”
Obama and the State Department have said that the resettlement of refugees will continue. They have argued that the refugees have undergone a lengthy application process and that intelligence agencies like the CIA, NSA and FBI have conducted background checks. Vice President Biden said the governors are playing into the hands of the terrorists when Western democracies give up on their commitment to be places of sanctuary. Biden said during a video address: “It’s clear what ISIL wants. They want to manufacture a clash between civilizations. They want frightened people to think in terms of 'us versus them.’ They want us to turn our backs on Muslims victimized by terrorism."
Regarding the refugees, Biden said that “to turn them away and say there is no way you can ever get here would play right into the terrorists' hands.”
Of about 1,800 Syrians who entered the U.S. in 2015, half of them were children and about 2 percent were single men of “combat age,” according to the State Department. All of them went through a yearlong application process in other countries like Egypt and Turkey. Those admitted to the U.S. are selected out of thousands of applicants. In the coming year, the U.S. plans to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Some governors say they are refusing federal orders to avoid putting their citizens in harm’s way. However, three years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government has the exclusive power in deciding who can come into the country. The decision in Arizona v. United States found that states cannot enact their own immigration laws, putting the power solely in the hands of the federal government. Furthermore, the courts have routinely ruled that states would have to prove an immediate and imminent threat from the refugees to block their resettlement, which no governor has proved.
While some governors have come out against Syrian refugees in their states, several mayors have welcomed Syrian refugees. In 2015, 22 individuals fleeing Syria were resettled in Lancaster, Pa., and the town expects an additional 40 to 50 in the next year. Detroit, Mich., and Austin, Texas, plan to accept families, ignoring their governors’ attempts to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in their states. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has said that his city can support 50 Syrian families annually for the next three years while Austin Mayor Steve Adler says the city already has accepted three families and is awaiting more.
What do you think?
Should states be allowed to refuse Syrian refugees? Or should the federal government hold the power to decide on admitting refugees? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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